raising ducks, HaliKarla.com

Who knew that living a holistic creative life would lead us to raising ducks?! Seriously, the past two and half months have been filled with daily energy and sweet moments with these three little creatures….

raising ducks, HaliKarla.com

See, all of this holistic creativity talk is about so much more than making art to me. It’s also about how we engage with our awareness and life experiences. Maybe another way of saying it is that ART is a way of life – a way of SEEING life and participating with it.

A few months ago, we had a friend offer us a chicken coop – one they had made out of an old coffee table… have I mentioned that we live in the South? So we started talking about some of our values and how we’ve wanted to maybe raise chickens for eggs, and have this little dream of living in a more participatory way with the land we’re on, what sustains us, and how we spend our energy back toward those things in a conscientious exchange.

One thing led to another, and after a little research, we thought ducks might make more sense for us. We love engaging with our animals and everyone said ducks are more fun, they suffer from less disease, certain breeds lay more eggs, the eggs are bigger and tastier in baked goods, etc. So we thought – yeah, ducks. But just a couple – there’s only two of us after all. We looked into it more, and thought Khaki Campbells would be a great breed for us. We just didn’t know where we would get them (lots of people actually mail order them, but that made me feel funny, so I wasn’t sold on the idea). But it didn’t matter because within 24 hours, Steve synchronistically saw a posting that there were hatchlings available about an hour away – Khaki Campbell ducklings.

The next day we were in the car to go pick them up – but we had to take three because the duck farm didn’t want to be left with just one (makes sense). They also don’t vent their ducks (to determine the sex) because it can cause damage to the duckling – so we weren’t even sure if we were getting females or drakes (male ducks)… AND it would be possibly a couple of months until we knew what sex they are and if we would ever get eggs from these babies we were taking on. We’re pretty sure we know now… read on.

After getting a tour of the farm we left with three of the tiniest 2 day old ducks in a box on my lap, and they nipped at my ring on the ride. At home, they moved into a climate controlled plastic bin in my studio… and we began the daily process of watching them grow (very fast), learning about ducks and preparing for grown ones in our space.

This included extending the coop size, adding another door and a make-shift roof with scrap material and a little green paint. My fella got super creative with using stuff we had around or could salvage from others – like those legs – they’re from a large piece of bamboo. I added the mandala touch to make it a happy nest for when they would move in.

raising ducks, HaliKarla.com

We had lots of conversations about how the space would be in the yard for them, and how care for them would effect our routine. We have dogs and cats in our neighborhood, and for the past two years, we’ve had bears in our yard at times. For ducks, you have to think about safety – luckily we both work from home, so our presence helps a lot – but we needed to think about ways to move them around a yard with no fence. So we came up with a simple portable pen design that butts up against their coop ramp, and that we can wheel around the backyard so they have fresh grass to lay on and forage each day.

More recently, we have rigged up a hardwire fence (that can roll up as needed), so that they can free-range in a safe area in the back when we are outside with them. This has been a hoot! They don’t like being touched by hands much, but they love being near us – yet, if we walk toward them, they waddle-run away, but the minute we turn around to walk away, they come running after us. They will come right up to us when they’re out – as long as it’s on their terms.

raising ducks, HaliKarla.com

raising ducks, HaliKarla.com

We rebelled against a lot of recommendations. If you’re an animal person, you know… our creature companions have spirit and personality. For instance, it’s recommended that you don’t let ducklings swim until they’re a couple of months old – it has to do with feathers, oil and warmth and makes sense – but taking into consideration how we could provide what they weren’t getting from nature with monitored water introduction, we didn’t have the heart to keep water from them for that long! I mean, they’re DUCKS, right? So we let them swim early, and they did great (see below for a video of their first swim).

We also moved them permanently outside pretty quick compared to what some suggest for those without a mother duck. These ducks grow FAST – and like most animals there was a sense of peace about them outside that wasn’t happening in our makeshift pens inside. You know… sunlight, breezes, grass… who could blame them. So we did careful temperature shifting over time, and once they hit temps that were like the temps outside, and the coop and pen were ready, out they went. I was pretty delighted about this after almost 6 weeks of having them inside, to be honest. And they did great once again. They even put themselves to bed the first night as it grew dark – waddling up the washboard ramp – easy-weasy!

raising ducks, HaliKarla.com

I have been so heart-struck by these birds – they are messy and have been a lot of work – but they bring so much joy and a slower pace to the moments of our day – grounding us in our HOME.

To have three together gives a whole close-up perspective about how they intuitively work, as well. They have a complete flock-mentality – when one starts getting into something, the other two follow – and there’s no set leader, per se – just attentiveness to the unit. I get the impression that if we just had one, it would have bonded with us and been OK with being handled regularly – but with three, they just want to be near each other, so to try to bond with one becomes tricky.

They are cautious – understandably so – and yet they are so very curious. We have more wild birds in our yard than ever. The crows especially love to come clean up any food the ducks have spilled, and we can look out the window and see the crows just a few feet from the ducks several times a day – sometimes I swear they’re talking to one another in Bird.

raising ducks, HaliKarla.com

You can tell the sex of a duck (before the males feathers fully change) by their quacks, and sometimes by their tails. The males voices are quiet, raspy, and they talk less – and the females are the quackers, talking a lot. The males/drakes also will show a curled tail. From our observations, we have lucked out – 2 females and 1 male, indicated by significant voice changes and one curly tail – which means they can all stay together here with us. Of course, we’ll know for sure once we start getting eggs in a few months!

raising ducks, HaliKarla.com

 

Right now, they are going through their first moult already, shedding their first feathers all over the yard – and their big ones are coming in beautifully.

Did I tell you their names yet? Moss(y), Gita and Stars in {his} Eyes (Starzy) – though to be totally honest, we have a hard time telling apart Mossy and Gita anymore – except that Mossy lets out screaming quacks and runs around a bit like a chicken when scared!

Contrary to what you might think, ducks don’t have to have a pond or swimming hole at all – they just need enough water to get their heads submerged. We thought we would only give them a pool a couple of times a week to minimize the yard mess, but they just love it so much that they get a small pool every warm day – plus, that’s half the fun for us right now – watching them love their life.

They’re 11 weeks old today, and I’m amazed at how much they’ve become a part of our life – including sneaking into my art from time to time. There is something really magical about playing a role in raising the source of some of your food – really getting to witness the nature of the creature and how they engage, and try to provide for them some quality of life. It’s a whole new level of exchange and gratitude for us that will feel really special with that first egg.

Here’s a silly two minute video of their first swim:

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